Twenty Four questions with Contributing NPR Producer, podcaster, and longtime employee of the store formerly know as 'on 15th Video', Warren Langford
with William Pennington
Warren Langford's name sounds made up, a name you'd expect to hear as the author of a number of obscure science fiction books. Or maybe a character from a classic novel. I'd like to think he renamed himself in junior high, as we'd all like to do.
Warren contributes to KIRO and KPLU (now KNKX) radio, and has submitted work for NPR's Radiolab and All Things Considered, to name a few of his projects. Reading through his articles on clippings.me answers a few of my burning Seattle questions, such as Who/What is Hollow Earth Radio, and why are there multiple telephone poles in Seattle that don't touch the ground?
Oh yeah, Warren was a longtime employee of my second favorite video store in Seattle, On 15th Video (RIP), on Capitol Hill, housed in an old fire station. You might have even received a late fee from this man on your credit card and didn't even realize it. The stores closure is still considered a small tragedy, joining the growing list of too many video store closings in America.
KNKX is one of his current freelancing outlets, which is also one of my favorite Saturday afternoon radio stations. They even have an alarm on their app which allows you to wake up to their live radio stream. You'll feel better if you use this, trust me.
Another great listen is the Personal Effects podcast, where (along with co-host and co-producer Alex Cartwright) their mission is to look at a special item that has a unique life history. This podcast satisfies those who love the Radiolab and Sound Effect podcasts, but also love the obscure. This podcast is available on iTunes.
I felt honored when Warren felt the need to remind me that I asked to interview him, after he asked me to pitch a story idea for KNKX's Sound Effect. Yes, it seems as though we might just be crossing the streams with our proton packs, folks. Here's what we have so far!
You have worked at many media outlets and companies. I won't ask you to rank them, but how does the size of the broadcasting company correlate to your own personal/work happiness? The bigger the company (like say KIRO), the bigger the audience, the larger the satisfaction? Or does working at smaller company like KNKX feel more comfortable because there is less pressure?
KNKX actually has a larger news staff, more reporters. KIRO Radio's news department is a pretty small operation in comparison. KNKX does feel more like a family, it's cozy in that studio. While KIRO is more cooperate and sterile.
Where are you going with Personal Effects? What are you trying to say? I find each episode could be either dark and funny.
We're really in the business of talking to the most interesting people we can about the most interesting stories they have and it just so happens that Alex and I are obsessed with stuff, collecting, and conversation pieces. We just thought this would be a really good thread to follow in podcast form. How does the stuff in our lives shape our lives?
Do you think one of the minor themes is about humans being obsessive?
I know it is, and irrationally so. Like one of our episodes, Cheeseburger, it's about a Seattle band that found a cheeseburger in a greenroom on tour that Flavor Flav had taken one bite out of. They became obsessed with this thing and had it shellacked. That's obsessive behavior.
You just finished season one. Any insights for us about season two?
We want to have bigger pieces that go in more directions. We are even talking about making a web series out of it.
How did you go from video store clerk to podcaster? What got you started?
Well Alex and I both worked at the video store. She got me that job and got me into podcasts. We obsessed over podcasts when we talked, more than movies even...I went back to school and some how ended up a communications major...I took one radio class and that's when I got the idea to make a story about the Talkboy I found. After school I interned at Sound Effect at KNKX. It's the closest thing to podcast school in town. So I figured I better start a podcast and finally convinced Alex to go along.
Do you feel that almost everyone has a story, either of an object or an experience, that can be told on Personal Effects?
I think most people have one...But when they are put on the spot, they can't remember it. But for their story to make it on the show it can't be like "My dad gave me my first baseball when I was five and now I love baseball." It has to have a twist or something that makes it unique or dramatic.
Do you believe that there is a magic out there that somehow connects objects and people? Or is it all in our head?
I do and I also think it's in our heads, but that doesn't make it any less magic.
Where can Seattlites reach you, if they want to share their story?
What songs or which type of music to you listen to when you need to get some serious work done?
AH, the curse of doing audio work. The joy of listening to music or, ironically, podcasts to pass the the work day is off the table when I'm editing or recording. I do enjoy some ambiance (which some would say is a big no-no) so I try to do most of my remote work from various coffee shops. Something about being in a busy place helps me concentrate. I don't think that is uncommon.
Nine Inch Nails is great cleaning up the house music. If I need to pump myself up for a big interview or test or something, I put on that Mortal Kombat song where the guy yells "Mortal Kombat!" through the whole thing.
Would you like a bigger career in music?
It's weird. I hardly separate my music life from podcasting. I've been in several bands in Seattle but only since I started doing podcasts have I found what I think I was looking for there. I would like a bigger career in podcasting.
Is an asteroid hitting earth something you think about? And would dinosaurs be alive (with us) today if that one big asteroid didn't wipe them out?
Certainly dinosaurs would not have stood for the rise of mammals had they survived whatever tragedy took them from us.
How would we even know if people were telepathic thousands of years ago?
A hieroglyph of an Mayan shooting wavy lines out of his head at another Mayan.
If gods existence could be proved, would there be a need for faith?
Nope! There would be a need for therapy for me though.
What is your favorite video store of all time, besides On 15th and Scarecrow Video? I think mine is Universal Video in Seaside, Oregon. That guy loves him some VHS. And it's still open!
Video Library in Santa Fe, NM...Not the best selection in the world but I used to hang out there a lot. And it's still open!
How many points is Trump worth, if you played the Death Race 2000 race today? Wait, didn't they actually hit the president at the end of that movie?
What advice would you give anyone who feels like they are living an unfulfilled life?
Start doing things that you wouldn't normally do. Put yourself in weird uncomfortable situations. Take on projects, lots of projects and don't get butt hurt if they don't go anywhere. Finding happiness has been a process of elimination, at least for me.
Do we really have emotions, or are our brains tricking us?
It's all an illusion maaannn. This is a very emo question, in more ways than one.
What would it take for an exercise video to win an Oscar? They have a script and everything.
This happened: Castaway
If you could befriend any animal and use it as transportation, which animal would it be and why?
Living or extinct? Extinct: a big old pterodactyl, on account of the flying and looking awesome. Living...uhh can we do better than a horse? They're pretty efficient, and you don't even have to be friends with them.
If the PNW were to annex itself off from the rest of the country, would you choose to become a citizen of the Cascadia movement?
Yeah, but only if there was free and easy travel to the rest of the US and world. Can I get duel citizenship? I was born in the United States of America.
One of my favorite things about On 15th Video was the building, an old firehouse. Were there any ghosts or stories that are worth telling?
Not one. Ghost tour people would stop by and ask this question a lot...hoping for something juicy. I was there pretty late as the night closer...We would practice music there after hours. I never saw a damn thing, but I was still creeped out from time to time.
How can Reckless Video still be in business but not the one you worked at? There's also Video Isle in Ballard.
We would still be in business if our owner had taken it seriously...he wasn't very proactive, to say the least. We never did any ads, or made t-shirts..a lot of the stuff Scarecrow does to keep afloat. But I think he was just sick of writing us checks, to the point that none of us got our final paychecks.
In the arm wrestling trucker movie Over the Top (1987), Sylvester Stallone had a special weight lifting machine for his right arm, so he could lift weights while driving. Was that an actual product that truckers could by, or was it made especially for the film?
I thought you'd never ask. I have no idea.
Was the On 15th Video job one of the most fun jobs you've ever had?
By far the most fun ever. I'd still be working there if it didn't close. Most of us are very close still